Zenit aim to join Europe's elite

Dick Advocaat hopes to take the Russian club to the next level.

    Pavel Pogrebnyak will miss the Uefa Cup final [AFP]
    Zenit St Petersburg may not be the most fashionable club but the Russian champions made the rest of Europe take notice when they crushed German giants Bayern Munich 4-0 to reach the UEFA Cup final.

    Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, however, stopped short of proclaiming his team were in the same class as Chelsea or Manchester United, who contest the Champions League final in Moscow on May 21.

    "Well, we are not an elite club, not yet anyway," the Dutchman said afterwards.

    "We don't have the status of Chelsea or other big European clubs, but hopefully if we continue to play like we did tonight, then anything is possible."

    Zenit's attacking display against the former four-times European champions in Thursday's second leg semi-final at the Petrovsky stadium even impressed Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.

    "Any team that beats Bayern 4-0 must be the favourites (for the final)," the German said.

    Ironically, the Russian side play Rangers in the UEFA Cup final in Manchester, England, on May 14, while the English clubs will go the other way to contest the Champions League showpiece in the Russian capital a week later.

    Zenit, playing in their first European final, will now try to emulate CSKA Moscow, who became the first Russian club to lift the UEFA Cup in 2005.

    Attacking blow

    They will have to do it without the services of their top striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, however.

    The Russia international was booked late in the game after netting twice on Thursday to join Bayern striker Luca Toni as the UEFA Cup top scorer with 10 goals apiece.

    He will miss the final through suspension.

    "It was a stupid foul but I hope my team mates will carry the load for me," said Pogrebnyak.

    Advocaat is used to replacing team members after Zenit played the second leg against Bayern without three suspended players -- Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin, Czech international Radek Sirl and Dutch midfielder Fernando Ricksen.

    "No one is irreplaceable. Other players will have to do a bit more to get the job done," he said.

    The Dutchman, who moved to Zenit in 2006 after quitting as South Korea coach, made winning the European trophy a priority this season.

    "Zenit have never played in a European final, so this UEFA Cup means a great deal for this club, for the fans, for the whole city," he said.

    "After coming this far, we certainly don't want to stop there."

    Zenit, backed by the seemingly limitless resources of Russian energy giant Gazprom, will make their Champions League debut in September.

    Advocaat, who in November extended his contract for another year, has already asked the team's sponsors to splash their cash to strengthen the squad.

    "When you compete against the best clubs in Europe you can't rely on 11 or 12 players," he said.

    "If we want to become a top club we must have the equal number of quality players just like any other team."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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